The American Cancer Society (ACS) says Missouri’s rate of melanoma cases has doubled in the last nine years. Nationwide, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer. The organization says the greatest avoidable known risk factor for skin cancer is the use of indoor tanning devices. The ACS says tanning before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59%. State Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, is proposing to prohibit Missourians under 18 from using tanning beds, regardless of parental permission.

Missouri State Rep. Nick Schroer briefs the Capitol Press Corps on December 1, 2017 (photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications}

“Tanning even one time before you’re 25 can drastically increase your chances of getting melanoma,” says Schroer.

Twenty-one percent of Missouri girls in 11th grade and 30% of Missouri girls in 12th grade have used indoor tanning equipment. Nationally, about 16% of girls in the 12th grade use tanning beds.

Schroer wants to ban the underage use in tanning salons, health clubs, apartments, and condominiums, regardless of whether a fee, membership dues, or other specified forms of payment are charged for access to the tanning equipment. He says about 15 other states have similar laws that he wants the Missouri Legislature to enact.

Under current Missouri law, Schroer says businesses that provide tanning services are required to check the age of their clientele, confirm parental consent of those under 17 and explain the health risks associated with traditional tanning.

“There are many tanning salons throughout this state that are manned by teenagers. They’re allowing their friends to come in and tan. I had high school friends that did the same thing,” says Schroer. “Undoubtedly, we are not strictly complying with the law 100% of the time in this state. You can see that with the statistics. There is no reason our melanoma cases have doubled in the past nine years if the limits that we put in place a couple years back were working. That’s why you’ve seen the trend of other states limiting it to 18 years of age for UV tanning.”

UVA is the most common kind of ultraviolet light which penetrates below the top layer of skin. UVB is ultraviolet light which does not penetrate as deeply as UVA rays, but still damages the skin. Tanning devices deliver UVA dosages 5-15 times higher than delivered by the summer midday sun on a Mediterranean beach. UVA is the main UV wavelength individuals are exposed to in tanning devices and frequent exposure to UVA increases the risk of melanoma.

“This would encompass all of the UV tanning beds, whether it’s UVA or UVB. The UVB beds would still increase your chances of having melanoma,” says Shroer.

The proposed prohibition would not include a phototherapy device prescribed by a doctor to diagnose or treat a disease or injury. Phototherapy is an FDA approved medical tool often used for skin conditions like psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. It emits concentrated UV radiation in different ratios than tanning beds. The ratio for UVA (long-wave) and UVB (short-wave) rays are closely monitored by a medical professional and change depending on the skin condition being treated. The rays are often applied directly to the area needing treatment – rather than the entire body as a tanning device would cover – and are often used either after a medication has been shown to be ineffective at treating the condition, or in conjunction with a medication.

Schroer says there are other alternatives, like spray tanning and tanning lotions, that he thinks would prevent a negative financial impact on tanning services that could be affected by a change in law.

“I really don’t think it’s going to be people can’t tan at 17 in the beds and they’re going to stop altogether. They’re still going to want to get a tan. You see kind of the same things with cigarettes,” says Schroer. “A lot of the teens who can’t smoke cigarettes are now trying to do these alternatives, the vaping.”

Under Schroer’s bill, a business that violates the regulations would be subject to fines of $250 to $500.